Then something happened that she didn’t anticipate. Leila’s brother went through her phone and found the text she had sent to her friend.
“Mum cried. I cried. We convinced ourselves it was a phase. She asked me to make an effort to be be ‘normal’. I said I would.”
But when he looked at her quizzically, she says the full realisation of who she is hit her. I am a lesbian, Leila told herself.
But she still hoped there would be a way out of it. She prayed. She meditated. She became angry with herself.
“Every gay person comes out twice,” says Leila. “You first come out to yourself. You have the moment when you bi sex dating realise that there is no going back. This is you. You are gay. Your plans and expectations for what you thought life would be need to adjust. Then there is the second coming out, the public coming out, to the people around you.”
When she came out to herself, Leila began to look for other gay people. She doubted there would be women like her in Burundi, but she searched videos on Facebook and YouTube seeking lesbians in other countries.
Her next step was to explain to her mother that it wasn’t a phase – a hetrosexual life was not for her.
Initially her mother took it badly. But as the days passed she began to ask more questions. Leila’s father was more supportive than she expected.
They could protect her while she was in the family home, but they could not guarantee her safety outside if the wrong people found out.
Luck and the internet
“We started talking at lunch,” says Niya. “Within that conversation, we knew that we were the same. There was a shorthand, a recognition.”
“It’s hard to describe how exactly gay people meet each other in Africa,” says Leila. “You don’t have a lesbian hotspot that you can Google – a known place we can meet up. (more…)